United’s records probably show that you used your miles to upgrade your daughter and granddaughter on their return flight from Hawaii, but it doesn’t have any information about the booking error.
I think this could have been avoided. When you pay for a ticket, you should receive an email confirmation from the airline. You didn’t have any confirmation for the award tickets booked for your daughter and granddaughter.
Don’t assume that you have a ticket unless you get an email confirmation. Also, you should always take the confirmation number for the ticket, which is also known as a PNR (Passenger Name Record), to the airport with you.
You sent an email to United, which was a good start, but you needed to appeal this to someone at a higher level. I shared a few executive contacts (http://elliott.org/contacts/united-airlines/) with you, and you sent another email. The response? Another rejection.
United, like many large companies, records phone calls with customers for “quality assurance purposes.” Your case would be easy to prove – or disprove – simply by reviewing the call. Incidentally, I believe customers should have access to their conversations with any company representative. If you’re being recorded, then you should be able to get a copy.
I normally wouldn’t miss an opportunity to rant about the questionable value of frequent flier miles, but in this particular case, your miles bailed you out at the last minute. It’s a shame United didn’t consider your loyalty to the company when it sent you repeated rejections.
I contacted United on your behalf and it returned the extra 120,000 miles you had to spend.